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Howl's Moving Castle - Review

Howl's Moving Castle

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5


MAGICAL Japanese anime master, Hayao Miyazaki (an Academy Award winner for Spirited Away), conjures another spellbinding experience in the form of Howl’s Moving Castle, a rich and complex tale that should have viewers of all ages enthralled.

But far from resorting to easy crowd-pleasing tactics, the film is a richly-textured, multi-layered piece of work that requires the utmost attention.

Based upon a children’s novel by British author, Diane Wynne Jones, the film follows the fortunes of Sophie (voiced by Emily Mortimer), a pretty teenage girl working in a hat shop, who is cruelly turned into a 90-year-old woman (voiced by Jean Simmons) by the vain and conniving Wicked Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall) following a chance encounter with the handsome-but-mysterious wizard, Howl (Christian Bale).

Rather than dwelling on her misfortune, however, Sophie resolves to lift the curse and sets off on an incredible odyssey, eventually taking refuge in Howl’s magical moving castle where she becomes acquainted with Markl, Howl’s apprentice, and a hot-headed fire demon named Calcifer (voiced by Billy Crystal).

As she begins to bond with her new-found friends, however, Sophie’s kindness and determination begin to have a profound effect on Howl, who is trying desperately to avoid becoming a pawn in a war that is threatening to destroy the kingdom he inhabits.

Together, they resolve to find a way of bringing peace while attempting to understand their own feelings for each other.

If the ensuing plot sounds a little convoluted for an animated feature, that’s because it is.

For Howl’s Moving Castle isn’t to be taken lightly given its intelligent exploration of the power of love to transform and the resiliency of the human spirit.

That it manages to remain captivating and enchanting at the same time is testament to Miyazaki’s ability as a film-maker and his passion for traditional values.

The film looks terrific and is constantly evolving, keeping viewers enthralled on a visual level, as well as emotionally.

It harks back to the classic style of The Wizard of Oz, as well as countless other children’s classics, while also remaining relevant to contemporary thinking.

And it has assembled a richly-drawn and thoroughly engrossing collection of characters, whose story arcs provide plenty of surprises. You’ll laugh with them, just as you’ll cry with them given Miyazaki’s ability to make the film both funny and poignant.

If there is a criticism, it’s that it ultimately poses more questions than it answers and fails to provide a genuinely satisfying conclusion – opting for a Hollywood approach that feels a little out of keeping with what’s come before.

But it’s a small price to pay for something so beautiful and original that looks certain to prove as timeless as some of the classics it aspires to.